NEW YORK – Blaming the federal government for neglecting the threat of global warming, eight states and New York City sued some of the nation's largest power companies Wednesday to force them to decrease their carbon dioxide emissions (search).
The lawsuit does not seek money, but hopes to force industry changes that officials said can help avert an environmental catastrophe.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan was filed "to save our planet from disastrous consequences that are building year by year and will be more costly to prevent and stop if we wait."
Blumenthal and others resisted citing Hollywood-like projections of geographic calamities, but New York City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo did say continued neglect could lead to flooding someday of runways at Kennedy International Airport or of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, which link Manhattan and New Jersey.
Others claimed the effects of global warming (search) were already being felt as hot air worsens asthma conditions in the young and bronchial disorders in the old and permits the population of disease carrying insects such as ticks to flourish.
Blaming the federal government for inaction, Blumenthal said he expects more states to join California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and New York City in the legal action brought in Manhattan.
"Some may say that the states have no role in this kind of fight or that there's no chance of success. To them I would say think tobacco," he said. "We're here because the federal government has abdicated its responsibility as it also did with tobacco."
In 2003, states received about $8 billion in legal settlements with the tobacco industry.
This time, Blumenthal said, "we are not seeking a nickel from any of these companies. We are simply forcing them to comply with the law."
New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said he was concerned about erosion of the state's 130 miles of shoreline and of the increasing incidence of asthma in the state.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said 1998 was the hottest year since thermometer records began in 1861, and 2002 and 2003 were tied for the second warmest years.
The plaintiffs want the court to force five power producers — American Electric Power Co., Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc., Cinergy Corp. and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority — to decease emissions 3 percent annually for 10 years.
They say those power producers own 174 fossil fuel-burning power plants that produce 646 million tons of carbon dioxide annually — about 10 percent of the nation's total.
Scott Segal, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group that includes Atlanta-based Southern, criticized the lawsuit for trying to hold individual companies responsible for global climate change.
"If you gave the facts of global climate change to a first-year law student, and they recommended a public nuisance case, they would get an `F,"' Segal said. "The idea that any one company's emissions are responsible for global climate change is more political science than environmental science."
Jeffrey Marks, with the National Association of Manufacturers (search), which represents AEP, Southern and Cincinnati-based Cinergy, said regulating carbon dioxide emissions would severely depress the U.S. economy, limit the use of fossil fuels, and hinder environmental improvements.
Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, agreed, saying, "A lawsuit is not a constructive way to deal with climate change. There is nothing one company, five companies, or one country can do to resolve global warming. It will require a global commitment including developing nations."